We Regret to Inform You
By Norris Burkes
-- I don't like fish.
My wife loves fish, but shes always a bit superstitious about cooking it.
She claims that our fish dinners are routinely interrupted by my chaplains
duty beeper. Whether working as hospital chaplain or a military chaplain,
it always seemed to be the same.
Emerging from the house one Saturday afternoon, my wife interrupted my yard
work by fashioning a "time-out" signal with her hand and my beeper.
"Mortuary Affairs Office," I said reading the number.
"Let me guess, I won't be cooking fish tonight?" she called as I ran into
the house for a quick shower.
"Don't slice the lemon just yet!"
Thirty minutes later, I was in my dress uniform meeting with our death notification
team. Composed of a lawyer, a chaplain, a medic and a commander, the team
seems more like the beginning of a very predictable Bob Hope joke.
"There was a doctor, a lawyer and a priest driving down the street."
Only this jokeless script read:
"Are you Mrs. John E. Jones?"
"Is your husband Captain John E. Jones?"
"Ma'am, we regret to inform you that your husband Capt John E Jones, SSN
555-55-5555 was killed."
Of course we rarely get that far without a gush of sobbing and hemorrhage
of denial, but we stay with the script until it is delivered.
As many times as we have delivered the news, weve always read from the script.
It's the only way to get through without cracking. The effort is to be compassionate,
"Professional" means we always rehearse the script and watch a
refresher video detailing the process. It also means checking and rechecking
our facts before navigating our stereotypical Air Force blue sedan through
the heart of base housing.
Uniforms in base housing on a weekend are a rare event and their sudden appearance
in the cul-de-sac made us look like a small parade. We were a living, breathing
As we stepped out of our car a little boy met us at the curb. He was just
in time to point out his mother who was coming out of the garage wiping motor
oil off her hands.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
Suddenly she inhaled our presence.
"What's this about?"
"May we talk inside?" The commander asked.
"Come back later. This isn't a good time," she said.
"We're sorry ma'am, but we can't do that. Please, may we come in?"
The commander's pained look demanded passage and permission was granted.
The commander started the script, but she refused to let him "regret" and
her oily hands formed an airtight seal over her ears.
Eventually we were able to deliver our line and the medic watched for signs
of fainting as I held her hand and prayed. The legal guy explained how her
husband's dignity would be guarded by the trusted escort of a friend all the
The compassion was as real as it could be even if it wasn't real.
For you see, on this occasion, it wasn't real at all. All the players were
volunteer actors taking part in a base exercise designed to make us ready
for future realities.
The predictability of the script gives breath to the fear known by every
person who has ever served in the military. It is a fear reenacted hundreds
of times in the mind of the service member and their families. Despite the
fear, they go, they do their jobs, and most of them come home.
So, as we pause during this time of war to celebrate the contributions made
by our servicemen and women, we are best served by remembering those who never
wavered as they served.
Frankly, I'd have rather eaten the fish that day than taste the flashbacks
generated from the exercise.
They were flashbacks of finding houses in the middle of the night where porch
lights reflected off our polished brass to signal the intent of our visit.
They were flashbacks where screams sliced open the night and hopes careened
out of control as spouses, children, parents and siblings were told of their
This exercise was much too real. It was exactly the way it happens every
time too much of the time.
We got a good grade on the exercise and I suppose that was good because a
few weeks later we were called to do it for real. We had to interrupt a little
boy's birthday party to do it, but we did it.
While simultaneously turning five-year-old party goers away at the doorstep,
the commander began his script.
"Ma'am we regret to inform you...."
For more information about Norris Burkes please log onto his website at
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.